[GRRN] Plastic Beer Bottles - Amber Tint

RecycleWorlds (anderson@msn.fullfeed.com)
Sun, 7 Feb 1999 16:59:52 -0600

There has been a good deal of discussion recently on the GreenYes and
RecycleLink Listserve about the amber tinted plastic beer bottles Miller is
using for its for its Miller Lite brand in six test markets. That dialog
has tended to sound like the issue is fatal to us. Let me add some
background information about this issue to provide some rays of hope.

Apparently, the taste of certain types of beer can be affected by both
UV and visible light, which is the reason for the amber tinted glass beer
bottles for those beers that are light sensitive.

In the glass stream, there has always been flint, green and amber
bottles, and closed-loop recycling of glass systems have long been set up
for a three-color sort. (Obviously, there are very significant losses in
the value of glass cullet as a consequence.)

In the PET stream, we have long had clear and green tinted bottles
(though here the green tint is solely for brand identification, not product
protection), and again the systems have been set up for that distinction.
Bear in mind, though, that, while green has been accomodated, that
accomodation has come at a substantial cost.

Tinted green bottles are estimated to be approximately 25% of all PET
soft drink bottles. To separate them with autosort equipment used by
intermediate processors imposes some cost, but the major loss is the fact
that, as with most pigmented scrap products, their end market value is
heavily discounted relative to clear (or unpigmented) scrap material due to
the fact that its applications are more limited. With RPET, that discount
is usually greater than 5 cents per pound, on top of the additional
autosorting costs. (Further note: to flesh out the wider extent of the
losses recyclers are absorbing, the trace remnants of PVC are causing
recyclers to lose another 10 cents or more per pound!)

Adding yet another color would again increase autosortation costs
further (probably more than linearly because the profusion of colors makes
the spectral analysis that these systems employ much more tricky in field
conditions), and, again, the market value of pigmented material would be
substantially less. Unfortunately, it would not be possible to sort the
green and the amber bottles together for sale into the same end product.
For one thing, technically the two pigments' chemistry is apparently
conflicting: for another, economically, that kind of application were it
technically doable, such as pushing PET strapping to black, would be
substantially lower paying.

And, to bring this to a head, the overarching backdrop for all of this
is that the current reclaimers are barely able to hang on during down
markets of the virgin commodity cycle because recyclers handling costs
(relative to market value) are greater than virgin resin during those
times. Simply put, it is absolutely essential to IMPROVE the existing
economics if plastics recycling is to be sustainable over the long run.
Adding a new variety of plastics packaging that either increases existing
processing costs or lowers existing market values would be virtually

On the other hand, that is no to say that recyclers are at an impasse
with brewers concerning plastic bottles for amber brands. Two vendors are
making representations that they can meet recyclers' needs:

1. PPG, which has developed a coating technology to provide the
additional barrier properties for added shelf life needed by beer which it
states washes off in the reclaimers bath without additional costs, also
asserts that it can add the amber tint to the coating, which would also
wash off simply.

2. Continental PET Technologies has led me to understand that it is
working with one of its test reclaimers, Envipco, to find out the
incremental cost of autosorting out the amber bottles by themselves, and it
is also determining whether they would make a market for the amber bottles,
and, if so, how much they would pay.

Plastic beer bottles are not excessively likely to be stopped. For one
thing, the additional container material will give brewers significantly
greater bargaining leverage to get lower aluminum and glass container
prices. For another, as has happened with single serve soft drinks (12 to
16 oz. was followed by 20, 22 and 24 oz. bottles), plastic more readily
opens up the drive to increase the number of ounces of each unit sale to
push more product.

It would seem that it should behoove the recycling community to help
clearly educate the brewery industry to our precise needs in order to
"push" the technology to make it possible for both industries to win.

Certainly we need to acknowledge that additional work up that we are
asking might delay the roll out of plastic beer bottles by a couple of
months, but, in the bigger picture, that addtional time spent here could
very well speed up the actual roll out because a non-recyclable plastic
bottle would likely meet significant public resistance that no product
manufacturer can afford.

Peter Anderson

Peter Anderson
RecycleWorlds Consulting
4513 Vernon Blvd. Ste. 15
Madison, WI 53705-4964
Phone:(608) 231-1100/Fax: (608) 233-0011